Turning on a Dime

It is not easy to determine if someone (or a group of people) arrived at a theological conclusion on the basis of intellectual searching or if the conclusions were generated by some external factor and it is not always ethical to attempt to make these judgments. But when the group in question readily switches their beliefs from end to end simply in order to maintain their conclusion in the face of changing facts, it is naive and even irresponsible to take them seriously. Allow the followers of Jesus to illustrate.

According to the Christian Scriptures the followers of Jesus identified Jesus as the Messiah. This means, in the best case scenario, that the followers of Jesus had carefully and thoroughly built in their minds a comprehensive portrait of the Messiah as predicted by the Jewish prophets. These men felt that their portrait of the Messiah was so solidly grounded in Scripture that they were willing to take upon themselves the weighty responsibility of positively identifying the Messiah with all of its cosmic ramifications. But after all of their Scriptural research they still did not expect Jesus to die (Luke 24:21) and they actually saw his death as a contradiction and a refutation to his Messianic claims. The portrait that they had developed did not include suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection. They had read Isaiah 53, Daniel 7, Psalm 22 and all of the missionary proof-texts without it occurring to them that the Messiah is supposed to suffer and die.

But after Jesus died and after they believed that he was resurrected, their portrait of the Messiah underwent a radical change – now the Messiah MUST suffer, he MUST die and if you deny these Biblical “truths” than you MUST be spiritually blinded.

If the Biblical interpretation could turn around on a dime just so that it can keep up with the devotion, there is no reason to grant it any credibility. It is not a matter of being judgmental; it is a matter of being responsible and faithful to the truths with which we were entrusted.

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An Open Letter to “Concerned Reader”

An Open Letter to “Concerned Reader”

Dear Concerned Reader; this letter is in response to your recent comment: July 26, 2014 at 3:59 am .

I will begin by thanking you for your respectful tone and for your sincerity in demonstrating that there are subtle nuances that get lost in the heat of discussion. I will point out however, that in the work of studying nuances, care must be taken that the broader picture doesn’t go lost.

You say that Jesus is important to you because he was the vehicle through which certain truths came to the gentile world. You acknowledge that these truths are present in authentic Judaism but your contention is that Jesus and his story brought them to the gentile world.

I will point out to you that there is a massive effort sponsored by believers in Jesus to bring Jews, who already accept these truths, to devotion to Jesus. This effort is not something new to Christianity; it has always been an integral part of devotion to Jesus. Something is wrong here. If Jesus is merely a vehicle to bring Judaism to the gentiles then why the effort to convert the Jews?

It would seem that for many Christians, belief in Jesus and devotion to him, are not merely a means to achieve an end, but rather these are an end unto themselves. To these Christians, worship of the Creator of the world as Creator of the world is not good enough. These people pour their energy and finances in order to get worshipers of the Creator to worship Jesus. These people see worship of Jesus as something integral to the human experience and with their activities they acknowledge that this experience cannot be found in worship of the Creator. There is something attracting them to Jesus that has nothing to do with “Creator.”

You speak of the Church teaching the sanctity of life and you see this in the fact that gladiator matches lost their popularity with the rise of the Church. I am not sure why the bull-fights in Catholic Spain are so much better than the gladiator matches, but those aren’t necessarily encouraged by the Church. But what do you say to the form of entertainment, not only encouraged by the Church, but invented by the Church? I speak here of watching human beings burn at the stake. There is a Catholic institution called “The Inquisition” which supplied the human fodder for such “entertainment” by the hundreds of thousands. I hope you understand why I don’t see the value of human life as something so deeply integral to the Church’s legacy.

Yes, the Church did bring the Jewish Scriptures to the gentile world and that book teaches the value of human life. But who is to say that the Church did what would have otherwise not happened? Had Jesus not been born it is entirely possible that the message of the Jewish Scriptures would have eventually seeped into the gentile world. After all, even with the Church’s missionary activity, it took the Reformation and the Renaissance, both of which were opposed by the Catholic Church, to get some of the basic principles of civilization to the masses. If the Church would not have taught the pagan to despise the Jew, perhaps the pagan would have more quickly seen the light? I don’t know that this would have happened but you don’t know that it wouldn’t have happened.

The Church is a tree of good and evil. The good is what it took from Judaism and this is what makes its teachings attractive to the human conscience. Just because the Church rode the light of truth for its own benefit doesn’t mean that anyone owes anything to Jesus. And it certainly doesn’t justify calling him the fulfillment of the hopes of the Jewish prophets.

The Jewish prophets foretold of a world united in worship of the Creator of heaven and earth to the exclusion of anyone else. They saw this as the ultimate climax of the history of man. The missionary effort to get worshipers of the Creator to give their hearts to another entity is a step backwards. And the effort to expose the falsity of the claims of this missionary campaign is a step in the direction of the prophets of the Jewish Scriptures.

 

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Movies and Manifestations

Movies and Manifestations

Two of your friends just returned from going to the movies. They claim to have watched the same movie but in different movie theaters. One of your friends goes on and on about the content of the movie that he saw. While the other friend just speaks about the movie theater. He speaks about the beauty of the building, the plush seats, the air-conditioning system and the popcorn, but nary a word about the content of the movie. You don’t know what they saw but it is clear that these two people had two different experiences.

The meaning of this parable should be obvious. No one has seen God. But the prophets of Scripture did experience various encounters with God. Moses heard the voice of God from the flames of the burning bush, Israel saw the glory of God in the cloud that accompanied the in the wilderness and Isaiah saw God on an exalted throne in one of his prophetic visions.

But none of these encounters with God led to an exaltation of the medium through which the encounter took place. No one ever named a synagogue after the burning bush, and no one wrote a book expressing their love for the cloud of glory.

How does this compare to the Christian claims for Jesus? The missionaries contend that the person of Jesus was some manifestation of God as was the burning bush of Moses and the cloud that appeared in the holy of holies. But how do these compare? Why is it that those who witnessed that cloud of glory do not bother to compose songs about the cloud while those who saw Jesus sing about almost nothing but Jesus?

(This article is for those who believe that Jesus is somehow comparable to the manifestations of God that are recorded in the Jewish Scripture. The previous article, “Ambassadors and Prophets,” is for those who believe that Jesus is somehow comparable to the prophets of the Jewish Scriptures. These comparisons are both invalid. The effect of Jesus on those who accepted the validity of his mission is radically different than the effect of anything described in the Jewish Scripture (except idolatry). After all, the purpose of sending a prophet or presenting a manifestation is not so that some scholars can debate about the fine points of philosophy in their ivory towers. The purpose of prophecy is to teach the people.

Just check what the people learned.)

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Ambassadors and Prophets

Ambassadors and Prophets

The jungle inhabitants were lost in confusion. Then an ambassador from the benevolent and wise king came and taught them some ways of civilization. Since that first ambassador from the king arrived in the jungle, many other ambassadors visited the jungle and its inhabitants. These ambassadors taught the jungle dwellers about the great king and his noble ways. And many of these ambassadors wrote books so that the wisdom of the king can be preserved for future generations.

At some point in time the jungle dwellers noticed something radically different about one of the ambassadors. All of the other ambassadors emphasized their message and kept their own personality in the background. When they read the books of the other ambassadors they walked away with a deeper understanding of the greatness of the king and of his kind and just ways. But this one ambassador’s book left them with a completely different impression. The book was not about the king, it was all about the ambassador.

The jungle people noticed something else about this different ambassador. Those who believed that he was an authentic ambassador (and there were some jungle dwellers who believed that he was a fraud) were all enthralled by the person of this one ambassador. Those who believed in the authenticity of the missions of the other ambassadors hardly spoke about the person of the respective ambassadors. All of their talk was about the king who the ambassadors represented.

The meaning of this parable should be apparent. Moses, Isaiah, David, and Jeremiah were all great prophets. Moses’ impact upon the Jewish people is immeasurable. Before Moses came along the Jews were enslaved in Egypt. After Moses died, the Jews had encountered God at Sinai, had witnessed stupendous miracles, possessed a just and holy Law and were poised to enter the Promised Land. Yet how often do you find Jews speaking about Moses’ personality? How many synagogues are named after Moses?

Contrast this with Christendom’s emphasis on Jesus. How can you compare the two?

A real ambassador represents his country. A fake one represents himself and uses the cause of the country as a means to advance his own glory.

 

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Journey of Truth

Journey of Truth

The prophet Jeremiah brings a harsh message of admonition from God to the Jewish people. “What wrong did your forefathers find in Me that they distanced themselves from Me and went after futility and became futile? And they did not say: Where is the Lord, who brings us out of the land of Egypt, who leads us through the wilderness, through a land of desert and pit, through a land of drought and the shadow of death, in a land through which no man passed and where no person had ever settled?” (Jeremiah 2:5,6).

God reminds Israel of their journey through the desert. How He took them through a land which cannot support life while supplying their every need. Israel should have looked back at those times and learned the lessons of that journey.

Rabbi Mendel Hirsch points out that God is speaking of this trek through the wilderness in the present tense, as if it is taking place here and now. It does not say; “who led us”, but instead it says; “who leads us.” This teaches us that the journey through the desert gave us a true picture of life that cuts through all of the illusions. Our journey through the desert was a true illustration of the journey life.

When we find ourselves in a civilized place, a place that has all the resources and provisions of life, we feel secure. We look at our sources of water, our food supply, the security that is provided by the police force and the absence of wild animals and we breathe easy. When we pray to God we are not desperate, we feel pretty safe and sound. We may perhaps ask God that things shouldn’t go wrong or there may be a particular trouble that we focus on in our prayers. But we feel secure with our general situation.

But this is all an illusion. There is nothing that we “have.” Everything is a constant gift from God and nothing “belongs to us.” Our water, our food supply, the civilization around us, the range of weather that sustains life, the light with which we see and the air we breathe are all here only because God decided that He wants to give them to us here and now.

The journey through the desert taught us how we are completely dependent upon God for every component of life. And when we realize how God is holding our hand every step of the way there is no way that we can rebel against Him. When we realize how He is sustaining us we also come to recognize that when He prohibits us from doing something, He is not withholding anything from us. That which is prohibited is not part of that flow of blessing through which He gives us existence. When God commands us to do something He is not demanding that we give Him something that does not already belong to Him. All the energy and effort that we will pour in to fulfilling His command belongs to Him and to Him alone. His commandments guide us on the path of life.

If we learn the lesson of the desert we will understand why King David constantly refers to himself as poor and impoverished (Psalms 40:18; 70:6; 86:1; 109:22). David realized that success in life is not amassing wealth and power. But rather, true success, is being able to see through all the illusions. Success in life means recognizing our complete and total dependence upon God and enjoying His constant embrace.

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Isaiah 53, Micah 7 and Isaiah 62

Originally posted on 1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources:

Isaiah 53, Micah 7 and Isaiah 62

 

Isaiah 53 (52:13 – 53:12) describes the servant of the Lord who shocks the world with his unexpected exaltation. The prophet presents us with the shocked words of the onlookers as they express their astonishment. From these words we learn that the onlookers were intimately familiar with the servant long before his exaltation. But they knew him as a wretched sufferer. The exaltation of the servant will cause them to reevaluate all of the theories that they had been propounding to explain the suffering of the servant.

Who is this servant?

I propose that in order to discover the identity of the servant we search the Scriptures to see who it is that will be exalted in the Messianic era and who it is that will be shocked and shamed when the Messianic era unfolds.

We do not need to wander very…

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Watch Out!

Watch Out!

There are different ways of keeping you from finding out the truth. One method that has been used is the banning of books. Another method that has been used to keep people from the truth is discouraging them from studying. These methods don’t work that well. Many people immediately see the motivation behind the book-banning and the words against studying. But there is a different method, a more insidious method of keeping people from the truth.

By calling your theological opponents “blind” you will successfully keep your flock from the truth. It will not even occur to them that there is another way of looking at things. Your followers will already “know” why others don’t agree with you.

If your teachers are telling you that those who don’t see the Bible as they do are “spiritually blinded”, then you are probably being kept from the truth.

Watch out! And don’t say that you weren’t warned.

 

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